My father discovered late in his life how wonderful marriage can be. He would always make sure to present his wedding ring in photos, placing one hand over the other. He had three children, me being the eldest, but we were still too young to really understand how sick Daddy was. Ambulances and home nurses were too many to count. He smoked 3 packs a day for over 20 years, for he was an anxious man. But, he figured, working out 2-6 hours a day at the gym made him "strong" to withstand any illness. He never had a headache in his life.
One day, my parents noticed how I lost my breath whenever I ran. Through secondhand smoking, I got chronic asthma. All 3 kids had numerous mysterious ear bleeds, which were attributed to secondhand smoking later on. He finally quit. But, he coughed up blood on our white kitchen sink one night. I recall his notebooks, tracking each time he coughed up something, and what color it was. Months later, he found out he had lung cancer. He didn't tell my grandparents or work, until he could no longer breathe without the oxygen mask. Even after surgery and chemo and radiation, the cancer spread to the remaining lung. We saw our hero, the man who coordinated holiday get-togethers with family because family was important, devolve.
I recall the time he swallowed a bottle of pills, and was crying and holding me tight as the ambulance came to pump his stomach out. His birthday cards to me hinted his looming death, giving me advice that I would understand as an adult. He fought for 5 years and died at the age of 52, several days before my 11th birthday.
My mom, who did not work, had to learn how to manage the bank account, how to drive, how to be both parents for her little ones. She renovated the whole home, top to bottom, otherwise it was impossible for her to live among memories.
Almost 20 years later, we are still struggling to remain a complete family. Every winter, I use my nebulizer, and besides looking at the mirror's reflection, this is my lingering reminder of my father: me struggling to breathe.